“You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”—Jesus in Matthew 5:3, MessageMost every person I know needs to dismantle their emotional programming for what it means to be happy in life. We are hard-wired to think that happiness and joy come by chasing the outer markers of success in life: a bigger house, a nicer car, a new toy. I explore this in Inside Job, my new book. We believe a lie and we make a vow that determines how we will live our life and try and try to be happy.Jesus turned this kind of thinking up on it’s head. To be happy—to be blessed—requires a total shift in our paradigm of how we view life. He offered us a paradigm shift in what is called the “Beatitudes.” These statements found in Matthew 5:3-14, are short, pithy and life-altering guidelines which help us not only dismantle our hard-wiring we’ve acquired through culture, church and family, but they help us really see how happiness is cultivated in our lives.In our Sabbatical, Gwen and I have come, face to face, with these statements--these beatitudes. Let me share one here: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” The Message jolts us to our core and says it this way, “You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”Blessing and happiness come by our emptying ourselves and having to rely on God in a complete and resolved kind of way. It’s when we are so vulnerable; so power-less; so weak and so empty that there is room for God to do his work. Our poverty is exchanged for his blessing. On our own, some of us try to out work and out wit God.We live as Parker Palmer has aptly coined it: functional atheism. We say believe in God and trust God, yet we live in a manic pace, stripping our souls and running our lives on empty. I had to come face-to-face with this humbling realization in our sabbatical--yet, again. We live as if our life, our work and our relationships are totally up to us. We, the, “functional atheist” of the 21st century, have soul work to do. We’d never admit it but we are more functional atheist than experiencing a faith with sustains, nurtures and shows us how to live with resilience . We live and function as if we are the ones having to push the proverbial boulder up another hill—yet again.Poverty in soul, for me meant that I had to accept let go of my grip on my work--and get out of its grip on me, my ministry and my staff. This acceptance--this consent is my daily work--my daily job. This letting go was a relinquishment of power and control. It required me confessing that I find my satisfaction in work--and not in God is not a good thing for me or anyone else around me. It is a shift towards poverty of soul for me. At times during sabbatical, I was anxious that Potter’s Inn might fail; fall apart or even die. We feel so fragile due to raising our support. Our helplessness actually fostered a deep sense of well-being---why? Because it meant letting go. Poverty of spirit meant a handing over to God all that I simply could not do and should not do.God works in us is to foster, nourish and grow a sense of contentment, inner-serenity and shalom that we live with the awareness that simply says this: No matter what my circumstances; no matter how hard this particular time is in my life; no matter how powerless I feel right now, 'All is well in my life and all will be well around me'. True contentment, my friends, is an Inside Job. In sabbatical, I left my work but I had to do my inside job.It is NOT up to me. I relinquish my efforts to be God—to be everywhere at once and to do multiple things that have stripped my soul bear and left me so empty inside. The great work of God is more than planting churches; more than sharing the Gospel; more than teaching. The great work awaiting each one of us the work of our inside job. God truly does desire our well-being. Sit with that thought for a moment and see where it might take you. What if you took a moment today and sat in your emptiness and weakness—feeling depleted and truly at the end of your rope and experienced the hands of God doing one thing: holding you. That’s it—just let yourself be held for a quiet moment. To sit, rather than DO something is an act of submission--and act of letting go--an act of well-being. Hey, I'm all for action, but even action must have it's seasons, right?In the beginning of our time “off” we felt like we truly were at the end of our rope. We were tired, worn out and experiencing some degree of burn out. So many years of pioneering and work had depleted us. A poverty within is what we had to face. As we faced our own spiritual poverty and admitted it and also confessed it—finally—we were brought low to a place of inner desperation and longing. “God, I don’t feel like I can go on. I can’t retire financially. But I’m at the end. Please God, do something. I let go now. It's time for you to do the thing that you must love to do--transform me and people like me."In that kind of confession, it seemed to have ushered us both into a journey of renewal.
Never have I found a more appropriate prayer for my first day back to work after a long sabbatical than the Welcome Prayer by Father Thomas Keating. At the first reading, you might be tempted to say, "What a nice prayer." And then move on. But Gwen and I have sat with this prayer on an intentional basis for the past few months. We have attempted to excavate the meaning and suck the marrow out of each phrase and sentence.It is rich. It is deep and it is transformational.Here it is:The Welcoming Prayer (by Father Thomas Keating)Welcome, welcome, welcome.I welcome everything that comes to me todaybecause I know it's for my healing.I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,situations, and conditions.I let go of my desire for power and control.I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,approval and pleasure.I let go of my desire for survival and security.I let go of my desire to change any situation,condition, person or myself.I open to the love and presence of God andGod's action within. Amen.To Welcome this day, our first day back to work means to enter this with no regret, apprehension or fear. It, the first day, the first week and the first season is for me. It is for my good. It is not for my demise.For my healing... returning to my work is also a part of my healing and transformation as much as our season of rest has been. Now, I can live out of the fruit of what has been gathered. I can also begin to integrate these precious truths into my work--not just my time off.The Welcoming of all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions---means for me, that I believe in a God that is good and is not ought to bring me down or to step back and watch my life spin out of control. God is vested in the process of everyday encounters.I let go--much of my work over sabbatical has been right here. To learn how to let go and to release things, people, my past and my future into the hands of God. Knowing that I cannot control these things helps me to learn to loosen my grip. The three sentences in the prayer that speak of "letting go" really are the three temptations of Jesus: the temptation for power; the temptation for approval; the temptation for security. I, too, will work through these temptations as I work--and being tempted to lean into each of these areas to find love, approval and security. To let go--is my daily business.I open myself---believing in a God who is good and who loves me allows me to become open. I open myself to the love and goodness of God. It is my intention to live each day in this posture and I consent to my participation of the work of my transformation.I posted this book on Facebook recently and got many "likes." Now, I regret doing it. I don't think this prayer or perhaps any prayer can simply be liked. The Welcome Prayer undoes us. I truly believe that this prayer can't be just read and put down. It will mess with you. It has with me. And isn't this, perhaps, the greatest purpose of prayer?
My problem with our sabbatical being over is that I’m not ready for it to be over. Things have not jelled. I need more time to process some things. I’ve not read all I want to read. I’ve not had the time (believe it or not) to think about some things and get them in concrete. I wish we would have taken longer. Perhaps I needed two more months for things to jell in my soul.John Climacus wrote in the 7th century, “A snake can shed its old skin only if it crawls into a tight hole.” Sabbatical has given me a tight hole in which I've been able to shed some things, find some things and experience some things. It's been rich and rewarding. But here's the deal: I still have old skin on me and in me. Despite my best efforts and intents, I want to come out of this sabbatical time: clean, new and different.With just a few days remaining on Sabbatical, I now know I’m going to walk with a limp. I’m going to still struggle. I’m going to disappoint many of you and my family cause one would think: You should be different given this time!Illusions of being different are born in the waters of baptism. We long to be more than we are. We want to become different than how we see ourselves. We think it's a whole new world when we start out on the spiritual journey. But on the journey we find we carry with us a lot of stuff in our suitcases that never seems to get unpacked and cleaned out. Call it snake skin, graveclothes, habits or addictions--there are some things that just seem like we struggle with--perhaps till we die. Sabbatical has been a time of stripping down my own suitcase and throwing off and away that which simply does not work anymore. Carrying baggage can be so tiring. I’ve found not much dies in those waters of baptism. Demons breathe underwater despite our best efforts to get rid of them. That’s how I feel about re-entry. Not all my demons have died--despite my best efforts to drown them.I’m 60 years old for crying out loud. I thought I’d be done with some stuff by now. Will I still wrestle with the demons of drivenness; performance and pleasing others? Would I not really be better off by doing this…or doing that?One of my grandchildren is almost ready to be potty trained. Being potty trained is all the talk now when we Skype. I can understand my grandson's dilemma. Something has just got to give and change. I’m “almost” ready for a new phase of life myself but somehow when I look down, I feel all messy. It’s not clean. I need someone to help me.Before we even started our sabbatical, we scheduled a re-entry retreat. It begins tonight. So, I'll be able to have some great conversations with a sage like saint whom I've grown to trust. This person, in so many ways is my pastor, my soul friend, my companion but just a head of me a bit--or a lot--depending on what day it is.So, this week, we are leaning into the wisdom of my spiritual director (someone older, wiser and more potty trained than I am). We begin this final act of transition. I want to explore what is for me in my sabbatical and what is for our team. What is for my family. What needs to remain private. Who knows, maybe after my third day with my spiritual director I will have shed my old skin once and for all.